Part of Energy Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 8th June 2004.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Lewes for tabling this probing amendment, and I am sympathetic to the concerns raised by him and other members of the Committee. As he intimated, the amendment's precise form could cause us problems.
Clause 85 will establish the renewable energy zone beyond territorial waters and put in place a framework to enable development of the renewable energy zone. However, it goes no further. It does not pre-empt any decisions on the scale or location of any energy development that may be considered. Such matters will be dealt with separately as part of the strategic planning framework, which is in place to ensure that the development of our offshore renewable energy resources is managed properly and with due respect for the marine environment.
The framework incorporates safeguards for consideration of the impact of proposed renewable development on the marine environment. I agree with what all hon. Members have said about the importance of that consideration. We have put the safeguards in place to ensure that those concerns are properly addressed. I will now outline the safeguards that are in place.
First, we are about to implement the EC directive on strategic environmental assessments. Before the directive came into force, reflecting the Government's commitment to safeguarding the environment, the DTI carried out a strategic environmental assessment of the three areas of the sea—the greater Wash, the outer Thames estuary and the north-west of England—earmarked for round 2, which is the second phase of offshore wind farm development.
As a result of the assessment, a coastal buffer zone with a minimum width of 8 km, but extending to 13 km in areas of particular sensitivity, has been excluded from development in all three areas. It was anticipated that the development proposals coming forward, due to their scale, could have disturbed birds and had an impact on inshore fishing—the hon. Member for Angus has rightly drawn attention to fishing interests—and on recreational activities. The potential visual impact was also recognised. The same process of strategic environmental assessment would apply to any new areas identified within the renewable energy zone for future development. Only after that would developers be invited to apply for a site lease.
Secondly, developers awarded site leases would still be required to conduct a comprehensive environmental impact assessment for their particular site and apply for development consent, as is the case for the developers who have already been offered site leases by the Crown estates. The developers need to conduct the environmental impact assessment before seeking consent from three Departments: Trade and Industry; Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; and Transport. As part of that process, we expect developers to engage in a dialogue with environmental NGOs and other groups, such as those representing fishing and other marine interests, which are likely to have an interest in the development.
Thirdly, before any project can go ahead, DEFRA must issue a licence under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985, and will scrutinise licence applications very carefully. If necessary, it will attach conditions to any licence granted, such as to monitor the impact of any development on its surroundings. In addition, where there are nature conservation interests of European importance involved, there must be an assessment of all plans or projects likely to have a significant effect on the conservation interests of those species or habitats.
In accordance with requirements under the EC wild birds and habitats directive, no plan or project, including wind farm developments, can proceed where it will have an adverse effect on the conservation status of the species or habitat concerned, unless no alternatives exist and an overriding public interest case can be made. Even where such a case can be made, compensatory measures would be required to redress any damage.